Bruce Springsteen Releases Latest Installment from Bootleg Live Series

The Live Series: Stripped Down features acoustic versions of songs captured between 1986 and 2005

Without much fanfare, Bruce Springsteen released another collection from his officially sanctioned bootleg live series on July 17. The Live Series: Stripped Down features 15 acoustic renditions of Springsteen tunes captured at seven shows in the U.S. and Europe between 1986 and 2005.

Other than short posts on Springsteen’s Facebook page and Twitter handle, there was no big announcement, and there does not appear to be a significant marketing push behind the album. That’s no longer necessary in the age of social media, especially when your target audience is your longtime fans, which I suspect is the case here. This is not about making a big buck. It’s also save to assume Springsteen is not a poor man.

Examples of previous releases of The Live Series (from left): Songs of Summer, Songs Under Cover, Songs of the Road and Songs of Friendship

In fact, had it not been for my music streaming service, I wouldn’t have known about this album! After searching the Internet, I found some additional background information on Alice Cooper radio show/station Nights with Alice Cooper and ABC News Radio, which are my main sources for this post.

The album combines Springsteen classics, such as Dancing in the Dark, Born to Run and The River, with deeper cuts/rarities like When You’re Alone, Cynthia and Seeds. Previous installments in the Live Series include Songs Of SummerSongs Under CoverSongs Of The RoadSongs Of FriendshipSongs Of HopeSongs Of Love, and Songs From Around The World. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the opener Dancing in the Dark, recorded at a gig in Mountain View, Calif. in October 1986. Originally, the song appeared on the Born in the U.S.A. album from June 1984. I think I prefer this stripped down rendition over the studio version, particular the accordion work by Danny Federici and the female backing vocalist – not sure it’s Patti Scialfa.

Here’s Soul Driver, captured at a show in Los Angeles in November 1990. At the time of the performance, the tune was still unreleased and Springsteen announces it as a new song. It would appear on the Human Touch album from March 1992. Frankly, while I own that record, I haven’t listened to it in a long time, so didn’t recall that particular track. Spontaneously, again I would say I like this acoustic version better than the studio recording.

Bobby Jean is one of my favorite tunes from Born in the U.S.A., so I simply couldn’t skip it – another great acoustic rendition that sounds very Dylanesque to me. It was captured at a show in Belfast, Northern Ireland in March 1996. I feel Springsteen’s emotions come out better in this rendition than the original.

Adam Raised a Cain is the second tune on Darkness on the Edge of Town, the fourth studio album The Boss released in June 1978. This stripped back version was recorded during a gig at Springsteen’s elementary school in his home town of Freehold, N.J. in November 1996 – how cool is that! It’s an interesting contrast to the much more rock-oriented original.

Let’s do one more: This Hard Land, a Springsteen tune that first appeared on his first compilation Greatest Hits from February 1995 as one of four then-previously unreleased tracks. The version on this album is from a show that took place in Stockholm, Sweden in June 2005. The Boss is a great storyteller, and I feel this stripped down acoustic setting really serves him well.

Nights with Alice Cooper included the following quote from Springsteen: “It’s like you come out and you fall in love every night in some way. When you’re doing it right, it’s like a rebirth, y’know? It’s not a repetition — it’s a renewal — so that involves something happening every night for the first time. And, amazingly enough, it’s like your first kiss in that there’s something in playing. There were thousands of other times, but still when you come out there’s some element of the first time that’s very, very present. And it keeps you very open and present and it’s what people feel.”

Here’s the setlist:

Dancing in the Dark (Mountain View, CA, Shoreline Amphitheatre, 10/13/1986)
Seeds (Mountain View, CA, Shoreline Amphitheatre, 10/13/1986)
Born to Run (New York City, NY, Madison Square Garden, 5/23/1988)
Soul Driver (Los Angeles, CA, The Shrine, 11/16/1990)
Bobby Jean (Belfast, UK, King’s Hall, 3/19/1996)
Adam Raised a Cain (Freehold, NJ, St. Rose of Lima School, 11/8/1996)
Youngstown (Belfast, UK, King’s Hall, 3/19/1996)
Independence Day (Asbury Park, NJ, Paramount Theatre, 11/24/1996)
Two Hearts (Freehold, NJ, St. Rose of Lima School, 11/8/1996)
When You’re Alone (Asbury Park, NJ, Paramount Theatre, 11/24/1996)
The River (Grand Rapids, MI, Van Andel Arena, 8/3/2005)
Cynthia (Columbus, OH, Schottenstein Center, 7/31/2005)
This Hard Land (Stockholm, Sweden, Hovet, 6/25/2005)
All That Heaven Will Allow (Trenton, NJ, Sovereign Bank Arena, 11/22/2005)
Empty Sky (Trenton, NJ, Sovereign Bank Arena, 11/22/2005)

Sources: Wikipedia; Bruce Springsteen Facebook page; Bruce Springsteen Twitter handle; Nights with Alice Cooper; ABC News Radio; YouTube

My Playlist: The Boss

Before getting to The Boss, I’d like to acknowledge the untimely death of Eddie Money who passed away yesterday (Sep. 13) at the age of 70 from complications from heart valve surgery in a Los Angeles hospital, only three weeks after he had revealed his diagnosis of stage 4 esophageal cancer. The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the news was his 1986 studio album Can’t Hold Back. I got it on CD at the time, primarily because of Take Me Home Tonight, a nice pop rock tune I dig to this day. I always liked his vocals. In my view, Money deserves more than a paragraph, so I’m planning to do a post on him in the near future.

Turning to Bruce Springsteen, I feel I never really need a particular reason to write about The Boss. As frequent visitors know, I’ve done so numerous times on these pages since I’ve started the blog in June 2016. It ain’t rocket science and all comes down to this: I just love Springsteen – his music, his lyrics, his down-to-earth personality, his amazing live shows. He’s the total package! I’ve been fortunate to see him twice over the past 30 years or so – undoubtedly, these concerts will stay with me forever. I think at least when it comes to live music, Springsteen truly is in a league of his own. Name another notch present day artist who plays 3 to 4-hour shows with seemingly endless energy – pretty remarkable at any age, but even more so for a guy who is about to turn 70!

Bruce Springsteen

To be clear, while music is both my passion and my therapy that more than once has helped me keep my shit together, I’m a fan, not a fanatic – not even when it comes to my all-time favorite band The Beatles. A phenomenon like Beatlemania actually scares me more than anything else. Had John Lennon or Paul McCartney asked their audience to go out and kill somebody, sadly, I have no doubt some lunatic would have acted on that. Obviously, this didn’t happen. My point here is that out of control fandom isn’t healthy, neither for fans nor music artists. With that being said, I still like to celebrate music artists I dig. But similar to drinking alcohol or driving, let’s do so in a responsible way!

The reason why Springsteen has been on my mind for the past few days is his upcoming 70th birthday on September 23rd. Obviously, countless pieces have been written about The Boss. In fact, Springsteen himself released his acclaimed autobiography Born To Run in September 2016. As such, there is really is no need for yet another write-up about his life! Instead, I’d like to focus on Springsteen’s music with a playlist of songs, which I haven’t featured in the blog before. This means leaving out gems like Born To Run, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and Bobby Jean, to name a few of my all-time favorite Springsteen tunes. Of course, the good news is The Boss has a mighty catalog to choose from, so let’s get to it in chronological order.

I’d like to kick things off with a track that according to Songfacts was one of the tunes that convinced Columbia Records to sign Springsteen in 1972: Growin’ Up. The lyrics about adolescence were inspired by his own troubles in school and frequent quarrels with his old man during his teenage ages. The track was included on Springsteen’s debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., which appeared in January 1973. One of the things I learned when researching this post was that David Bowie recorded a version of the song in 1974 during the sessions for his Diamond Dogs studio album, featuring Ronnie Wood on lead guitar. While it’s actually pretty cool, apparently the take wasn’t released until 1990, when it was included as a bonus track on a reissue of Bowie’s Pin Ups album.

Of course, there’s no way I can leave out my favorite Springsteen record from this playlist: Born To Run, a pivotal album for The Boss, who at that time badly needed a commercially viable record. Well, he hit the mark, and the rest is history. In addition to the title track, the album includes other classics like Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Jungleland and the tune I’d like to feature here: Backstreets. According to Songfacts, Springsteen told Rolling Stone in 2016 the song is about “Just youth, the beach, the night, friendships, the feeling of being an outcast and kind of living far away from things in this little outpost in New Jersey. It’s also about a place of personal refuge. It wasn’t a specific relationship or anything that brought the song into being.”

The River has become one of my other favorite Springsteen records. I listened intensely to his fifth studio album from October 1980, leading up to my second and most recent Springsteen gig I saw in August 2016 during The River Tour – ironically, only to realize that by the time The Boss hit New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, the setlist hardly included any tracks from the record. Here’s Ramrod, a great garage rocker! Come on, come on, come on little sugar, Dance with your daddy and we’ll go ramroddin’ tonight…

Another album I can’t skip is the one that brought Springsteen on my radar screen back in Germany in the ’80s: Born In The U.S.A. Obviously, it did the same for millions of other folks around the world. With hits like the title track, Dancing In The Dark and I’m On Fire, it became Springsteen’s most commercially successful release and one of the highest selling records of all time. Here is one of the few tunes I believe were not released as a single: Downbound Train. The Boss first recorded this song as an acoustic demo in May 1982 during the sessions for his Nebraska album, along with several other tracks that ended up on Born In The U.S.A.

For the next selection, I’m jumping to the early ’90s: Lucky Town, Springsteen’s 10th studio album that was released at the end of March 1992, simultaneously with Human Touch. I still remember I bought both on CD at the same time. Here is the opener Better Days, which also became the lead single released 10 days ahead of the album. “With a young son and about to get married (for the last time) I was feelin’ like a happy guy who has his rough days rather than vice versa,” commented Springsteen, according to Songfacts. It’s a fairly simple track with a straightforward chord progression, but I just love the sound.

An important album in Springsteen’s catalog is The Rising from July 2002. Not only did it mark his first record in seven years, it also was the first with the E Street Band since Born In The U.S.A. Hitting the right mood in the aftermath of 9/11, the album debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling more than 500,000 copies in just the first week. While not all the tracks dealt directly with the terrorist attacks, here’s one that did: Into The Fire, a dedication to the firefighters who were lost that day: The sky was falling and streaked with blood/I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into the dust/Up the stairs, into the fire/Up the stairs, into the fire/I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher/Somewhere up the stairs/Into the fire…

In January 2009, Springsteen released his 16th studio album Working On A Dream. “Towards the end of recording Magic [his preceding studio record from September 2007], excited by the return to pop production sounds, I continued writing,” Springsteen stated about the album. “When my friend producer Brendan O’Brien heard the new songs, he said, ‘Let’s keep going.’ Over the course of the next year, that’s just what we did, recording with the E Street Band during the breaks on last year’s tour. I hope ‘Working on a Dream’ has caught the energy of the band fresh off the road from some of the most exciting shows we’ve ever done. All the songs were written quickly, we usually used one of our first few takes, and we all had a blast making this one from beginning to end.” Here’s the official video for the title track.

I’d like to conclude this playlist with Springsteen’s latest record Western Stars, which appeared in June this year. It’s his first album of solo material since Devils & Dust from April 2005. While I don’t dislike the record, I have to admit I’m still getting used to both Springsteen’s singing and the sometimes lush sound – not many edges here. Here’s Tucson Train, the tale of a construction worker who left San Francisco and a difficult relationship to start a new life in Arizona, only for him and his woman to realize they miss each other, so she’s coming there to see him again.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube